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Here’s an idea for realignment that may satisfy Phillies fans

Like shadows on a sunny day, the word creeps into our viewfinders and causes us to tremble with fear, maybe scoff with disgust: “Realignment.”

Okay, maybe it’s not that worrisome, but the idea of realignment can certainly … realign … how we feel about what it is being realigned.

And in this circumstance it’s the major leagues. Not that it’s happening yet, but there are whispers from up high that Major League Baseball may expand to 32 teams (Montreal and Portland, Oregon, are the two cities most likely to land squads, which makes sense and would be great because both cities are cool). Of course, 32 isn’t 30, and so the current divisions become uneven, which means things might have to change. Thus, we get talk of realignment.

Here’s my scorching take on realignment: It’s not that bad when you’re really into a sport, but if you’re even a casual fan, it sucks. For example, I used to be a huge hockey fan, especially back when divisions and conferences were named after royalty. But the National Hockey League underwent major expansion, and thus, realignment, and so many times that my head spins to think about how the league changed. And certainly, the confusion regarding which teams were in what division and just what the heck those divisions were called helped to push me away from watching and caring about hockey. If I was a devout hockey follower I probably wouldn’t care so much, but from afar it’s just screwing with my mind to think about the Flyers being rivals with Columbus, and it was still weird to look at VGK on a score ticker, because for a few moments I had no idea what that meant.

So I won’t be too unhappy if baseball realigns to fit a 32-team configuration. But some casual fans may be frustrated or upset, and I’m sure MLB will be ready for that.

Anyway, how will this affect the Phillies? Tracy Ringolsby at Baseball America came up with his idea with four divisions, the important element in his being no more American and National leagues.

Now, I’m fine with change, and the idea of separate American and National leagues has turned into a blurry notion since expansion, the creation of interleague play and the evolution of “brands” (forcing entities like MLB to filter everything through itself instead of letting the two leagues do what they will). But there’s no way we should get rid of the leagues. While baseball can sometimes feel painfully stuck in the past, the idea of two leagues opposing each other and waging war is one thing baseball gets really right. If anything, the AL and NL should have more differences between them, but alas, we’re here. Even if the leagues are decoration, keep them.

Moving on: Ringolsby’s new MLB puts the Phillies in the “East” with standard rivals Atlanta, Miami and Washington, plus Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. It’s not terrible if we’re mixing leagues, but it’s very odd to see the Phillies not in the same division with the Mets (they’d be in the “North” with the Yankees, Red Sox and a slew of Great Lakes teams). One of his main reasons for these divisions is to keep teams in their own time zones as much as possible. Again, makes sense, but how can you take the New York teams away from Philly?

Again, I don’t like eliminating the leagues. Back in 2011 I actually wrote a post mapping out my realigned league, in response to some pieces back then about baseball wanting to fix competitive balance. My 2017 version isn’t very different; here it is:

National League East

  1. Philadelphia Phillies
  2. New York Mets
  3. Washington Nationals
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates
  6. Chicago Cubs
  7. St. Louis Cardinals
  8. Montreal Expansion Team

National League West

  1. Cincinnati Reds
  2. Milwaukee Brewers
  3. Houston Astros
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Francisco Giants
  6. Los Angeles Dodgers
  7. Arizona Diamondbacks
  8. San Diego Padres

American League East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Tampa Bay Rays
  6. Miami Marlins
  7. Cleveland Indians
  8. Detroit Tigers

American League West

  1. Chicago White Sox
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Kansas City Royals
  4. Texas Rangers
  5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  6. Oakland Athletics
  7. Seattle Mariners
  8. Portland Expansion Team

In this scenario we revisit the pre-1994 division alignment to some extent. Back then, the Pirates, Cubs and Cardinals were in the NL East with the Phillies, Mets and Montreal. Things have changed, so the Nationals obviously make it in with Atlanta. To keep the division at eight, Miami (a relatively new team in baseball) moves to the American League. Houston has to move back to the National League, but they’ve already moved a bunch. Meanwhile, look at that AL West – it’s the exact same AL West we had in 1993, just with a Portland expansion team. Beautiful, huh?

You can work out the number of games against teams any way you want, but I’d reduce interleague play to only 8-12 games per season. Each team has its own “natural” rival (in this instance the Phils would be rivals with Boston), and then plays another random team each year. That way the Phils see almost every AL team once every 15 years, which is weird but also fun.

Thoughts? Personally, I think this is the best realignment idea. But that’s me.

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